The amount of money students receive for financial aid will no longer be a surprise, as the University of California has developed a personalized tool that estimates the money each student will presumably receive from state funding.
The web-based tool is available on the UC website and is personalized according to each campus, since each receives different funding. Before the tool, students did not know what they would receive until after they applied for a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or a Cal Grant.
“The intention is to be more responsive and transparent,” said UC Office of the President (UCOP) spokesperson Ricardo Vázquez. “Students and their parents will be able to get a better idea of the true cost of their education.“
The tool takes into account a family’s size, the number of children in college, assets and annual income. It then displays not just a range of estimated aid, but also financial plans the family may want to follow, the possible grant assistance and the amount the student would be expected to raise through work or scholarships.
According to the office of financial aid, 62 percent of students at UC Davis receive some kind of financial aid. Included in that figure are low-interest loans, work-study and grants.
“Low-income families believe that they won’t be able to afford college, but when they see that there is aid available they’re pleasantly surprised,” said Trina Wiggins, director of undergraduate financial aid. “Even students who do not apply for financial aid can take out loans or receive scholarships.“
Before using UCD’s estimator, students must collect their parent’s and their own income tax returns, their most recent W-2 forms and any current bank and brokerage or investment statements. The student will then have to answer approximately 11 questions similar to those that FAFSA asks.
The result is a comprehensive chart that lists the estimated cost of attendance, how any grants or scholarships can reduce costs and the amount needed to finance the net cost.
“The tool gives a good estimate; not an exact number,” Wiggins said. “If you’re entering inaccurate information you’ll get an inaccurate result, so it’s best if the parent enter the information.“
UC Davis has recently put a tracker on the estimator website to better monitor the success of the tool. However, considering the tool was only introduced a week ago, UC Davis does not have an accurate number for website visitors.
Wiggins said the university is still unsure about the funding it will receive from the state this year, but that given the economic crisis, students and their families will have to prepare for a tough financial year. The web estimator is one way those families will be able to prepare.
UC officials are currently giving presentations of the tool to high school counselors, in hopes that prospective students will use it to determine well ahead of time what their financial plan will look like. However, many counselors either have not heard of the tool or use other tools, like Collegeboard or the Department of Education’s FAFSA4caster.
“Generally I send students to the FAFSA website,” said Lynne DeBie, Dixon High School counselor and commissioner of the California Student Aid Commission. “Although there is not very much in financial aid that is easy to navigate, so we are interested in making the tool available to students.“
Though the tool will not make college more affordable, it will provide another resource so that students can better understand what resources are available and how they can use those resources.
“The UC takes very seriously our responsibility to be affordable to students,” Vázquez said. “The purpose of this is that students know just how affordable college can be.“
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